Tonight let us all settle back peacefully and quietly in our pews in order to hear the story of a young boy who learned quite a lot while standing in front of a simple manger scene one cold, winter day.
Dylan was a bright and curious boy. Brighter and bigger than some boys and girls, but not quite as bright and a bit smaller than others. I guess you could say that he was somewhere in the middle. He had a mom and dad, a younger sister named Amber and a little bit of everything else you might think a young boy would normally have. In fact, Dylan was a little bit like each of us children sitting here tonight.
Now Dylan was growing up very quickly, as little boys do. One Christmas while he was growing up he came upon a manger scene standing in front of a little, white country church. He often passed this church while riding his bike in the warmer weather. But now, with snow on the ground and a fair bit of ice on the road, he was walking by the church on his way home from a friend’s house.
As he paused to look at the manger scene he could remember quite well the story of Christmas that he heard each year at home and in his Sunday School class. He remembered the part about Mary and Joseph being two very young parents who were chosen by God to have a baby that they were supposed to name “Jesus.” Things didn’t work out very well for these young parents because the baby was delivered while they were far away from home with no place to sleep except in a cold, damp stable.
He remembered how they had wrapped the baby in some kind of cloth because they hadn’t made pampers yet. He also remembered the part about some angels showing up with a lot of fireworks and scaring some shepherds half-to-death who were out in the fields, long past most people’s bedtimes, tending sheep.
The angels told the shepherds some fantastic news about this Jesus who would save the whole world! So convinced were the shepherds that they just left their sheep on the dark hills and rushed to a little town called Bethlehem to see this very special newborn baby.
Dylan continued to look at the simple manger scene in front of the little, white country church. There were a couple of bales of hay and two once brightly painted figures of Joseph and Mary. But now some paint was peeling off of Joseph’s nose and off of Mary’s dress. And the baby Jesus figure was a bit too big to be a newborn baby and looked a bit too happy to be lying there in the cold, damp hay.
Dylan wondered whether or not the scene at Jesus’ real birth was as neat and pretty as the ones he had seen in his Sunday School fliers or, whether it was more like this manger scene with the peeling paint and the Jesus that was too big.
He could remember clearly the day, a few weeks before, when he and his Sunday School classmates had gone out to a farm to have their pictures taken as they acted out the roles of Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds, the animals and, of course, the baby Jesus.
Things were not so perfect in the barnyard that day! The donkey would not stay still for little Mary who was dressed in a pink bathrobe and sneakers. And the shepherds were a motley crew of gigglers. The angels were very careless stumbling around hitting other people as they swung their arms in the air. There were a few cats meowing and getting in the way and, a dog who was not being a very good shepherd’s dog because he kept thrusting his rear leg up in order to scratch his belly.
Dylan was pretty sure there weren’t any cats or dogs around at Jesus’ birth, but maybe the animals that were there also got in the way. The baby who played Jesus in the barnyard was a darling little baby. Dylan wondered whether or not Jesus might have looked something like this baby.
In fact, Dylan was wondering about a lot of things having to do with Jesus’ real birth. He wondered about how funny it was for God to come to the earth in such a tiny, weird way. Coming as a newborn baby, lying in some itchy hay and needing a mother and a father, just like Dylan needed a mother and father.
He thought about what an inconvenient way for God to come to earth because Dylan knew all about what little babies were like. He remembered his sister Amber when she was a newborn baby. She would cry and kick and throw-up and do a whole lot of things that got mom and dad very upset. Dylan wondered if Jesus ever did such things and, if he ever flipped his cereal out of his bowl and onto his dad’s eyeglasses like Amber used to do.
Boy, thought Dylan, if I were God I would have done things a lot differently. Maybe I would have used an awesome spaceship to come to earth. And then, I would have jumped out of the spaceship like a super-charged action hero ready to take on all of the bad stuff in the world.
But then he thought that the manger scene, with the paint peeling off of Joseph’s nose and Mary’s dress, and with the oversized Jesus was such a quiet and gentle scene. Maybe God wants it to be this way – so still and so quiet.
But why was God not noisier? The world is always noisy. His mom and dad are noisy when they get mad and argue. The bombs people use to scare and kill each other are very noisy. And, Dylan admitted to himself that sometimes he can be quite noisy.
But, the fact is that God came to earth as a tiny, newborn baby, just like his sister Amanda used to be and just like he used to be – quietly, simply, innocently. Maybe, thought Dylan, God really likes children best of all, and so, he came to earth as a little child.
Why, I do not have to be afraid of a little baby, he thought. He will not hurt me. I am so scared of so many things. Adults when they fight, the bombs that everybody talks about at home, at school and on the news, and bigger kids who try to bully me. Yet, Jesus came as a gentle, little baby. You can only love a little baby.
Just then, it began to snow on top of the simple manger scene in front of the little, white country church. The snow laid on top of Joseph’s head and on Mary’s dress and on top of the baby Jesus. The snow fell so quietly, softly and peacefully. Maybe it snowed like this in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, when God came to earth so peacefully as a baby boy, as a little child that you can only love.
Tonight Dylan becomes the little child within all of us. Dylan is the little child crying out from within us for more love and for more peace. Dylan is the little child within us who shutters in fear when life gets chaotic, angry, brutal and sometimes, deadly. Yet, Dylan is also the unfailing sense of mercy and compassion within us that drives us to seek forgiveness or grant forgiveness, to protest against an injustice or amend our ways when you or I become the source of injustice.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God who is with us to save us from the evil and violence that lurks within each of us. The fact that God chose to be born into this human condition, a tiny, meek baby, makes a bold statement that God comes to us this night to overwhelm evil with the power of absolute, pure, unfailing love. Is this not something big to celebrate.?! Something big to celebrate tonight, tomorrow morning and for as long as we live.!
Perhaps somewhere in our travels tonight or tomorrow you and I will pass by a peaceful, quiet manger scene standing silently in front of a little, white country church, or a country farmhouse, or even poised inside the display window of a local business. Maybe the characters in the scene will be worn of paint and enamel as was the one Dylan pondered. Maybe the figures will be mismatched in size or material or color.
If you do come across such a manger scene, stop for a moment and quietly rejoice that the story that is told in that place gives you and me permission to be like children again. Children who can receive the baby Jesus who came to replace our sin and fear with peace, humility, compassion and love for all people – each and every one created by God.
And if you have forgotten what it feels like to be a child, find one to hug, and feel the life and energy of his or her breath and heartbeat. Look up and around to love those people present with you with the same love that drew you to hug this child. For Dylan’s prayer for us tonight is a prayer for gentle, undeniable and unwavering peace among each and every one of us now and forever.
Rev. Thomas M. Lang
New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gilbertsville, PA
Christmas Eve 2010
© 2010 thomas m. lang